Defamation Attorneys

Defamation attorneys prosecute and defend defamation claims, which are often pursued in the context of litigation involving other claims or counterclaims. Our Minnesota defamation lawyers represent victims of defamation or people accused of making defamatory statements. Where defamation claims exist, our attorneys can help clients understand the strengths and weakness of a case before the case goes to court.  When someone says something harmful about another person, some of these statements are actionable. Some are not. Our attorneys help clients to determine whether their claims or defenses have merit.

Defamation Explained

To establish a defamation claim in Minnesota, a plaintiff must establish the following three elements: (1) the defamatory statement is "communicated to someone other than the plaintiff," (2) the statement is false, and (3) the statement "tend[s] to harm the plaintiff's reputation and to lower [the plaintiff] in the estimation of the community." Bahr v. Boise Cascade Corp., 766 N.W.2d 910, 919-920 (Minn. 2009) (quoting Stuempges, 297 N.W.2d at 255). If the defamation involves a claimant's business, trade or profession, no actual damages need to be shown because damages are presumed. This concept also applies in some other cases. Our attorneys analyze each claim so clients can make informed decisions about whether to pursue a defamation claim in a specific case.

Defamation can be written (for example, in a newspaper or an e-mail) or oral/spoken.  Written defamation is called libel.  Oral/spoken defamation is called slander.

Defamation Defenses

Defamation claims are designed to prevent people from spreading false information that harms others. Minnesota courts have repeatedly held that defamation does not occur when someone speaks truthfully. Courts indicate that a true statement, however hurtful, is not actionable as defamation. Courts have also recognized the importance of protecting free speech and the expression of ideas and opinions. To avoid stifling open discussion, courts have also recognized that the First Amendment protects opinions and those who hold them. Therefore, it is a defense to defamation that the attorney accused statement was an opinion, not a statement of fact.

Defamation cases include many exceptions and nuances like this. For example, public figures are treated differently in the context of defamation claims because these citizens are believed to enjoy a unique benefit of public life: having a public forum in which to respond to false statements. Average citizens do not have the same resources at their disposal. This is why celebrities sometimes have difficulty winning defamation cases.

Our attorneys help clients understand the defenses in defamation cases. Each case is unique, and our attorneys provide thorough analysis of defamation claims with the goal of resolving claims through litigation, mediation or, if necessary, a trial.

Issues to Consider

Statute of Limitations. The statute of limitations for defamation claims is two years from first publication.  If the claim is not brought within that time, it is lost.

Retraction Statute. In an action for damages for the publication of libel by a newspaper, a plaintiff generally cannot recover more than special damages unless a retraction is demanded from the newspaper and refused.If the newspaper publishes the retraction (in the form specified by statute), a litigant may still recover general damages, unless the newspaper shows that the libelous publication was made in good faith and under a mistake as to the facts. Minn. Stat. § 548.06.

Damages for Defamation. Minnesota courts have defined general damages as the "natural, necessary and usual result of the wrongful act or occurrence in question." Phelps v. Commonwealth land Title Ins. Co., 537 N.W.2d 271, 275 n.2 (Minn. 1995). These damages include the more difficult to quantify damages for injury to reputation and might also include mental anguish, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and anxiety. Additionally, special damages are those "which are the natural, but not the necessary and inevitable result of the wrongful act." Id.  These damages are better known as "out of pocket" or quantifiable damages, e.g., wages from a job that was lost due to a defamatory statement about the worker.

Good Faith Police Report. Minn. Stat. § 604A.34 was repealed in 2015. It read as follows:

An individual who in good faith seeks assistance from, or reports apparent unlawful conduct to, law enforcement is not liable for civil damages as a result of that action. If an individual prevails in a civil action from which the individual has been granted immunity by this section, the court shall award the individual reasonable attorney fees and costs. This section does not exempt individuals from their professional obligations of confidentiality.

Although repealed, the same principles evident in Section 604A.34 are now evident in Minnesota's anti-SLAPP statutes, although these laws require additional proof to recover attorneys' fees against a litigant. SLAPP stands for Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation. Specifically, Minn. Stat. § 554.01, subdivision 6 now reads as follows:

Subd. 6. Public participation. "Public participation" means speech or lawful conduct that is genuinely aimed in whole or in part at procuring favorable government action, including but not limited to:
(1) seeking assistance from, or reporting suspected unlawful conduct to, law enforcement;
(2) speaking before a zoning board regarding a real estate development project;
(3) communicating with an elected official concerning a change in law;
(4) demonstrating peacefully for or against a government action; and
(5) filing a complaint with a government entity regarding safety, sexual harassment, civil rights, or equal employment rights.

Suits premised upon "public participation" are subject to defense through unique motions to dismiss, premised upon statutory immunity. As it relates to immunity, "[l]awful conduct or speech that is genuinely aimed in whole or in part at procuring favorable government action is immune from liability, unless the conduct or speech constitutes a tort or a violation of a person's constitutional rights." Minn. Stat. § 554.03.

Criminal Defamation. On May 26, 2015, the Minnesota Court of Appeals held that Minnesota's criminal defamation law, Minn. Stat. § 609.765, was unconstitutional. State v. Turner, 864 N.W.2d 204, 209 (Minn. Ct. App. 2015) (holding that "section 609.765 is overbroad because it does not exempt truthful statements from prosecution and, as applied to matters of public concern, does not require the state to prove 'actual malice' before imposing liability."). In late 2015, proposed legislation was in the works to correct the unconstitutionality of the law.

Discovery in Defamation Cases

Discovery is important in defamation cases because issues of damages (for plaintiffs) and defenses (for defendants) are fact-driven inquiries that require careful factual review. For example, who will testify that a plaintiff's reputation was harmed? A customer? A member of the community? Was a sale or job opportunity lost because of the defamatory statement? If so, who will testify to this fact? Are there documents, e-mails or text messages that support a claim or defense?

A thorough pre-trial investigation is important in a defamation case, and a strong investigation can impact settlement results before trial. Our defamation attorneys apply unique discovery strategies in each case and tailor their services to the individual needs of each client.

Learn More

To learn more about the services our defamation lawyers provide to clients, please call us at 952-432-3136 or, if you prefer, contact us via e-mail.